Feb. 5, 2015

The FAA recently published InFO 14012 in reference to flight plan discrepancies and amendment filing procedures, in order to remind operators of the importance of following appropriate procedures when amending a flight plan.

The FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, along with the Flight Standards Services, have noticed an increasing trend with discrepancies between the “filed” and the “operational” flight plan provided to the crew. The concern is that these discrepancies can lead to a loss of separation and an increase in workload for both air traffic control (ATC) and flight crews.

“Crews and operators who take the time to confirm that they have filed and received the correct flight plan will help mitigate any potential delays or errors from having excess and/or incorrect flight plans in the system,” said John Kosak, specialist with NBAA Air Traffic Services.

There are a number of possible causes for these discrepancies, all of which should be overcome with a little extra vigilance on the part of operators and flight plan service providers (FPSPs).

The majority of these discrepancies appear to be caused by inadequate coordination of changes to flight plans, according to the FAA. This can include filing a new flight plan without canceling the original flight plan, or not waiting for the confirmation of the cancelled flight plan before filing a new one. Both of these errors result in extra flight plans in the system. While ATC will work to resolve these when they become aware of them, there are times when ATC would not see the second strip in time. In a busy tower with numerous runways, the strips could even be distributed to different positions.

Flight plans are printed out approximately 45 minutes prior to the proposed departure time as filed in the flight plan. If an operator needs to make a change prior to this time, they should coordinate with the entity that originally filed their flight plan. That entity (a FPSP or flight service station) would then submit a “change” or “cancellation” message. If they use the cancellation message, that’s when they have to wait for the message that confirms the cancellation before filing the new or updated flight plan.

If the operator needs to change the flight plan inside that 45-minute window, the recommended procedure is for the flight crew to contact the controlling facility and ask them to “pull the strip” (current flight plan) and inform them that a new flight plan will be filed.

Operators also need to file an accurate and complete flight plan, which describes the capabilities of the aircraft and crew for each specific flight, recognizing that equipment codes are dynamic depending on the specific airspace and/or route flown. This means that crews and operators must be aware of the results of not entering specific information in the flight plan. This is especially important as we see more area navigation procedures proliferate throughout the system as the move toward NextGen continues.

This includes standard instrument departures; en route, and standard instrument arrivals. Operators should familiarize themselves with the ICAO flight plans, specifically fields 10 and 18, as well as the new FAA National Airspace System Required Navigation Performance Resource Guide (PDF).

Another potential issue that can lead to the crew operating with an incorrect flight plan would be a last minute maintenance issue that resulted in a minimum equipment list correction, which might negate the ability of the crew to fly the flight as previously filed. This could limit the aircraft to specific types of departures or arrivals.

“The final piece of advice is to listen closely to the final clearance given,” Kosak said. “Make sure that the route assigned is not only what was expected, but one the operators is capable of flying.”

Review the FAA’s Information for Operators 14012 (PDF)